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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 500 > THE TARDIS LOG!


A personal guide to the first five hundred issues of Doctor Who Magazine...

Whenever I’m researching an article for DWM, whether it is The Fact of Fiction, a silly guide to the Master’s plans or a detailed explanation of how regeneration works, the first place I always look is to the magazine itself. I have them piled up in a meticulously ordered heap on the shelf behind me for ease of access; some of the older copies are in plastic bags to protect them from the time winds, their staples having succumbed to entropy, their covers frayed and detached. But whenever I pull one off the shelf to verify some half-remembered fact or interview, the same thing happens. Well, the same two things. Firstly, all the magazines on top of it slither to the floor, and secondly, I end up reading that edition of the magazine all the way through. There’s always something in there which makes me laugh, or a forgotten titbit of trivia, or a comic strip or interview which gives me a frisson of nostalgia. Every single issue, without fail.

And so, in researching this article, I decided to embark upon the ultimate Doctor Who odyssey, to revisit every single issue of Doctor Who Magazine! Not reading every article all the way through, of course – that would leave me one side of madness or the other – but just those features that were unusual or exceptional or deeply peculiar.

So, come with me now as I travel back along my own personal timeline for a journey through the history of DWM. Because it’s not just the history of the magazine; it’s the history of the television programme, and it’s the history of what it means to be a Doctor Who fan. It is, in a way, the story of all our lives.

When the magazine began back in 1979, the Thursday after the broadcast of Part Two of City of Death, it was as Doctor Who Weekly and aimed largely at children; each issue contained three comic strips – one following the adventures of the Doctor, a back-up strip based around past monsters, and a reprint of an adaptation of a classic science-fiction novel from the pages of Marvel Classics Comics. The text material, provided by Doctor Who historian Jeremy Bentham, was devoted to the show’s past, introducing old monsters, Doctors and companions, and presenting abridged Target-Books-style retellings of William Hartnell’s adventures. But then, with the first letters page in Issue 7 (entitled Who Cares!), it became clear that part of the readership were serious-minded teenagers, such as regular correspondent Graeme Bassett of Grimsby, alongside photographs of young boys with pudding-bowl haircuts, chunky National Health glasses and Vimto-ravaged teeth. This posed a challenge which the magazine has faced ever since; how to appeal to both little boys and girls and long-term fans. This challenge may also be the secret to its success, as its solution has been to take those little boys and girls and turn them into long-term fans. Right from the start, DWM has fostered the idea that enjoyment of Doctor Who could extend beyond simply watching it on television; that you could be such a thing as a ‘Doctor Who fan’, and read about it and take it all much, much more seriously. The magazine taught its readers how to be fans.

The Doctor and Romana are puzzled by the DWM episode previews.

But it took a while for the magazine to find the right balance. When founding editor Dez Skinn was replaced by Paul Neary (from Issue 23), he revised the content to appeal to the younger readers, dispensing with the retellings of dusty old William Hartnell adventures and introducing new, fun features on the recent television series, original short stories, Fantastic Facts and the UNIT Club (despite the fact that UNIT hadn’t featured in the series for four years). In Issue 28 he also introduced the Gallifrey Guardian, breaking the exclusive news that the novelisation of Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood had been published a month earlier at the price of 75p. But there was still material for the magazine’s older readers, with the first behind-the-scenes articles (starting with a feature on Dick Mills’ Sounds Peculiar) followed in Issue 31 by an interview with new producer John Nathan-Turner. While his predecessor had barely featured in the magazine, Nathan-Turner would be a regular fixture in its pages, granting yearly interviews, overseeing (and occasionally censoring) its contents before becoming its ‘Advisor’ (until Issue 194).

However, the focus on a younger readership didn’t improve sales, and so with Issue 44 the weekly comic became A Marvel Monthly magazine, with a greater emphasis on cost-effective text features over expensive comic strips. The retellings of old stories were resumed and the short stories, UNIT Club and Fantastic Facts were replaced with Star Profiles (beginning with the first producer, Verity Lambert), Photo Files of companions, and previews and reviews of the television series. The previews took the approach of simply summarising the events of the opening episode of each story – so the Doctor and Romana are barely mentioned in the preview of Meglos, while the preview ofLogopolis includes a picture of the Part Two cliffhanger and asks, ‘Does a clue lie in the cryptic phrase “Heath Death”?’

Under its third editor, Alan McKenzie (from Issue 49), for its 50th issue the magazine celebrated its first milestone by printing a list of every Doctor Who story to date, including Beyond the Sun, The French Revolution and The Lion Heart. Fans who wanted to see the stories were encouraged by the news in Issue 53 that some old stories may be released on video, only to be disheartened by the revelation in Issue 55 that the BBC had ‘purged many of the old black-and-white recordings’. The grisly details of how few episodes remained followed in the first Winter Special.

Peter Davison alongside a DWM pin-up.

During Peter Davison’s first year, the magazine was a consistent joy, featuring pull-out posters of the series’ regulars (and, er, Kalid from Time-Flight), a cartoon (Doctor Who? by Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett, which would run from Issue 64 to Issue 222) and interviews with the show’s stars. The reviews were either positive or diplomatic (the review of K9 & Company devotes more space to the power cut that disrupted the broadcast than to the actual story, but notes that Elisabeth Sladen ‘is gifted with a very pretty and very expressive mouth’).

And then, during 1983, DWM went a little peculiar. Jeremy Bentham was replaced as features writer (or ‘general dogsbody’ as he put it in his farewell address) by Richard Landen, whose innovations included baffling short-lived features Beat the Panatropic Net and The Chorley Award, a guide to the function of every switch on the TARDIS console, and, strangest of all, The TARDIS Log, a feature chronicling every single TARDIS materialisation based largely on unadulterated guesswork and illustrated using photographs of genuine police boxes on street corners. Meanwhile in the Matrix Data Bank he would repeatedly assert that the First Doctor didn’t regenerate into the Second Doctor, he rejuvenated. This contention kept the letters page busy for most of the anniversary year and even turned up again in Issue 166!

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About Doctor Who Magazine

The biggest issue ever to celebrate 500 editions of DWM! Contents include: Interviews with Tom Baker, Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat; a message to readers from new companion Pearl Mackie; a letter from the Doctor; a 20-page celebratory comic strip, The Stockbridge Showdown by Scott Gray, drawn by a host of guest artists; an exclusive look at Mark Gatiss' 2001 pitch for Doctor Who; Peter Capaldi answers questions once put to William Hartnell; Fact of Fiction on The Day of the Doctor; competitions to win HUGE prizes; a bonus 116-page section looking back at the history of DWM, featuring every single cover and commentary from the editors; plus News, Reviews, Coming Soon, Wotcha... and LOTS of surprises!

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